With China On Radar, US Developing A New Variant Of Sixth-Gen Fighter Jet To Battle The Dragon?

The US Air Force has revealed more details about its sixth-generation fighter jet, also called NGAD, that will replace the fifth-generation stealth F-22 Raptor by 2030s.

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The future fighter jet will have “increased weapons load [and] … increased range” compared to the F-22, in order to undertake long-distance missions in the Indo-Pacific region, US Air Force chief, General Charles Q. Brown has recently said.

His comments dropped a broad hint that the NGAD fighter could have a variant to tackle Chinese threats in the Indo-Pacific region. 

Under the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, the service is developing a “family of systems” to attain air superiority by the 2030s and evolve the propulsion, stealth, and advanced weapon technology. The multi-role stealth fighter remains the pivot of the NGAD program. 

The new details were revealed during a hearing at a House Armed Services Committee. 

Reports have come in after the presentation of the USAF fiscal 2022 budget, in which General Brown defined “air dominance” as the primary role of the jet “but will be able to strike ground targets as well”. 

Citing the multirole functions, Brown added that the “sixth-generation fighter will have some air-to-ground capability to ensure, one, that it can survive, but also to provide options for our air component commanders and for the Joint Force”. 

The EurAsian Times earlier reported how the US conducted a flight test of a prototype last September. Since then, very little is known about the secret fighter jet as the NGAD program remains highly classified. 

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Indo-Pacific Outlook 

The NGAD fighter is reportedly being developed to match the realities of the Indo-Pacific, which has become the center point in the US strategic and foreign policy.  

The new details suggest that the jet will oversee the USAF operations in east Asian and European theaters. 

The Pacific theater has vast oceans that require more naval and aerial warfare capabilities. Due to the long-distance between countries, the US jets currently employ aerial refueling techniques that are costly and also face the risk of being shot down.

A concept of NGAD by Lockheed Martin. (via Twitter)
Compared to the Raptor, the sixth-generation jets may have a “larger blended wing airframe”, paving the way for more room for a weapons bay and a bigger fuel tank, some reports suggest

A new GE engine, called XA100 was recently tested that will reportedly power the advanced jet.

Air Force Magazine quoted Retired Gen. James M. Holmes, former of Air Combat Command, as saying that there may be two variants of NGAD: one with long-range and payload for the Indo-Pacific and one more oriented to the relatively short ranges between possible battle areas in Europe.

The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor can carry air-to-surface weapons such as the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) and the GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM).

US, China In Race 

The American stealth duo, F-35 and F-22 Raptor, are currently head-to-head with China’s J-20, the only two countries in the world to have indigenously-built fifth-generation jets in service. Russia currently has only one such jet, Su-57. 

The two arch-rivals, America and China, remain in the race to mobilize a squadron of sixth-generation aircraft. 

A Chinese J-20A. (via Twitter)

China is upgrading its Chengdu J-20 fighter with different variants to gain superiority over US jets in the future. The J-20B variant entered production in 2020. 

Chinese state-run Global Times reported on the PLA Air Force Force (PLAAF) eyeing to build its own next-generation fighter jets by 2035. 

The new features include the ability to command drones, artificial intelligence, and even higher stealth capability through aerodynamic design, laser, adaptive engines, hypersonic weapons, and swarm warfare, the report noted. 

While China claims that it will outpace the US-built jet with its own design, the US has officially acknowledged testing its prototype.

Meanwhile, the US continues to be tight-lipped on the technical specifications of the NGAD jet, amid concerns of China acquiring similar technology.